What does it mean to be French? Inherent in this question is a fundamental tension within French nationalism that is unique to France.
Originally, France consisted of diverse regions with their own languages, resources, and way of life. Take a look at the map below.
This diversity grew into a united country. From this, we can understand how one aspect of French nationalism is that it views itself as a universal program.
This nationalism holds that French ideas about “liberté, égalité, and fraternité” are as equally important as speaking French and living on French soil.
In this sense, anyone who adopts these principles can be French. And anyone who becomes a French citizen is heir to these principles.
Nationalism and Immigration
French nationalism was based on the idea that the nation was of paramount importance. It was defined by class and a set of ideas about how society ought to be structured.
All of the various factions in the French Revolution believed they were unifying the nation. But each faction had to exclude certain groups from the nation in order to define the whole.
This has morphed far beyond the original exclusion of the aristocracy. It has been used to exclude immigrants to France. The question of immigrant and Muslim assimilation as full members of the French state is at the forefront of debate leading up to presidential elections in April.
France is currently at the beginning of an inward turn that indicates a moment of crisis. The next French President will enter office with a country whose strategic position is weak, its economy stagnant, and its society divided.
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